A team of secondary school students, representing the Czech Republic under the auspices of the Jaroslav Heyerovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry in Prague, has won the silver medal at the 35th year of the International Young Physicists’ Tournament held in Timisoara, Romania, earlier this year. In a tough international competition, they came second, losing only to the German team, following five demanding rounds.
The awarded Czech team called NAFTA that roughly translates as “Team up against physics” made it to the international competition after winning the Czech Republic’s national round of the Young Physicists’ Tournament. An important role in the preparation for the tournament is played by the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Union of Czech Mathematicians and Physicists.
“The students picked up the basics of research work in physics in a series of educational courses called VYDRA at the Institute of Physics, with the experts from our Institute also helping with some measurements taken as part of the preparation for the international round. The Jaroslav Heyerovský Institute of Physical Chemistry provided the facilities and back up for the mixed NAFTA team that brings together students from different schools from around the Czech Republic,“ said Hynek Němec, highlighting the collaboration of both institutes of the Czech Academy of Sciences in the preparation for the international round.
The competition’s finals consist in a controlled scientific discussion on the solutions achieved by the contestants. During the discussion, the teams take turns in presenting their own results and in reviewing and assessing the opponents’. The discussion is evaluated by a jury composed of physicists. The contest is an extremely demanding mission for both the contestants and the teachers, who help the students prepare for it. With its high difficulty, it goes far beyond the usual academic knowledge competitions – in the months before the finals, the contestants are asked to solve 17 very freely formulated physics problems for which they – just like the real researchers – have to test their hypotheses by designing and building measuring devices to be used for data analysis and interpretation.
“I think that for such a small country like ours, the result is not bad at all, bearing in mind that we are competing against the best teams from each country. We achieved better results than, for example, Canada or Austria, where there is a long tradition of the contest and a tough competition in the national rounds,” said the lector Jan Brandejs from the Jaroslav Heyerovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry.
The competition is not only about the ability to solve the problems but also about being able to critically assess, and present and discuss the achieved results – the skills that are required in the 21st century knowledge economy. The key component for success in the Tournament, however, is team cooperation.
“Some of the students from the NAFTA team are familiar faces. Three of the students in the team of 15 people were members of our chemical clubs or took up our internships in the past. This suggests that if you draw a pupil’s attention to a discipline and provide them with guidance, their interest gradually becomes stronger. I am very happy to see they succeeded in the competition,” said Květoslava Stejskalová from the Jaroslav Heyerovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry.
The Young Physicists’ Tournament is announced by the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MŠMT) which delegates the implementation of the Tournament’s national round to the Union of Czech Mathematicians and Physicists (JČMF). Details of the Czech national round and about the preparation for the competition is available in: Czechoslovak Journal of Physics 72, p. 134 – 135 (2022); https://bit.ly/3MFZQdm